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Literary Dimensions Seminar

Wednesday, May 25, 2022
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
The Discovery of Character: Reimagining "Literature and Science" circa 1800
James Chandler, William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English and the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago,

The year 1800 was a breakthrough moment for the enterprise of British chemistry. It saw the invention of Alessandro Volta's battery, and Humphrey Davy would soon build one at the Royal Society that enabled him to carry out the experiments in electrolysis that yielded the discovery of potassium, sodium and chlorine. 1800 also saw major literary experiments by the long venerated William Wordsworth and the long neglected Maria Edgeworth. This lecture considers implications of their ongoing interventions for the understanding of "literature and science." In 1802, Wordsworth added to Lyrical Ballads a new account of the relation of the poet and the "man of science," an account that turned in part on distinguishing the special character of the poet, and on identifying the poet's singular capacity to shape the character of engaged readers. Simultaneously, Edgeworth, then the most influential novelist writing in English, would follow Castle Rackrent (1800) with Belinda (1802), a novel praised by Jane Austen, in which Edgeworth elaborated a different model. In place of a literature that assimilates familiarized scientific discoveries into material for the expression of poetic genius, she turns literary fiction itself into a medium of ongoing scientific experiment for the discovery of character—discovery both within the world of the novel and in the experience of its readers.

Registration required. Please email [email protected] to RSVP.

Caltech's COVID-19 vaccination policies currently restrict access to indoor campus spaces to individuals with proof of full vaccination status. For relevant information, please see the FAQs under "Campus Access" here. The Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is organizing this event, currently requires all speakers/visitors to its indoor spaces to be vaccinated. Visitors/speakers must demonstrate vaccination status no later than arrival on campus, before accessing indoor spaces.

For more information, please contact Cecilia Lu by phone at 626-395-1724 or by email.